All the songs are my children!

For almost 20 years now, the Serbian band Kal has been leaving its mark on the international world music scene like practically no other Roma band. Dragan Ristic is the man behind Kal. Not only is he an outstanding musician, composer and songwriter, but he is also a true Roma activist with a firm opinion and a differentiated view of things. On the release of the band‘s latest album "Romology", Gypsy Music Network conducted an extensive and extremely insightful and interesting interview with the charismatic frontman and singer.
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OK, Dragan. First of all, how are you doing?
I’m fine, thanks. As you may already know, we have just been nominated by the British Songlines magazine for the world music album of 2015 in the category "Best Group", and there is now a vote going on – I’ve spent the past few days promoting this campaign a bit. Also, we’re rehearsing at the moment and setting up a concert programme since we have some gigs coming up again soon.
Where will you be playing?
We have some local concerts here in Serbia in February and March and then in May we’ll be going abroad. We’ll be performing for you guys in Germany and Switzerland, too.
Great, we’ll be sure to be there!
We’d love it!
The album Romology has been out for a while now. What response did it get from listeners?
Well, we were up there in the annual charts on the World Music Central portal. Otherwise, what can I say? I don’t think I’m the right guy to answer that question because I’m afraid I’m not really objective enough to judge it! But I can say that the first batch has already sold out in Serbia and the album is going to be re-released. Sales were good in a lot of other countries, too. I’m really very pleased and quite happy with the album and also with the feedback I’ve received up to now!
What is the album about?
Romology is our fourth album and a natural progression of our work up to now. Searching, for myself included, the people around me and their stories, self-awareness, social issues – all those are the things the album deals with. Kal has always been a socially committed band with critical and reflective lyrics, and this album, too, again has such stories.
There is a track on the album called Gadzo DJ (with a video clip). What is that song all about?
I’ll explain: Gadzo DJ is a little ironic reflection of the current situation of Roma music in Europe and the rest of the world. It is effectively my analysis of the status quo of Roma music on the music scence. In my opinon, something is seriously wrong right now in that the biggest players of gypsy or Roma music aren’t even Roma at all. Bands and musicians such as Goran Bregovic or Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orkestra use Roma music or at least elements of it and then market it for their own purposes, even though they are not Roma. You could say that they are taking credit for something that is not theirs. The song Gadzo DJ plays with this theme in an ironic and funny way, although it is really quite a serious subject. And of course, I’m purposely provoking things with the song and poking fun at these people a bit. In our language, gadjo means "non-Roma". I wrote the song because the current situation is unfortunately a bit unfair: clever "non-Roma" are taking our culture and music traditions and earning tons of money and the Roma themselves go empty-handed since they don’t know how to really market themselves.
The situation the Roma currently find themselve in reminds me a bit of the USA in the 1930s, when white people took up the blues of the Afro-Americans and became even more successful with it than the Blacks. Fortunately, that changed over the years and the Afro-Americans are now the truly great blues musicians. Sure, there are exceptions such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and others, but the best and most famous blues musicians are all Afro-Americans. This development was a stroke of luck and very beautiful. I hope that will be the same for our music someday.

We ourselves have some very good musicians, but someone else is now using the potential of our music and making money with it. Please don’t take me wrong. I’m neither a nationalist nor do I begrudge someone their success, but the listeners should know who the true originators of a music tradition are and those originators should be given the respect and success due them.
And that is why Gadzo DJ is such an important song.
What you are talking about is something that I have also observed: Roma are outstanding musicians and possess a wealth of music tradition and culture. They are also extremely creative with their music and that of other genres, but they don’t know how to market themselves!
That is so right and exactly what I mean! There are many reasons for that. You need to understand how the music industry works and know how to take advantage of that in order to be a successful musician, especially today with all the technological opportunities and demands these opportunities present artists. Roma musicians are often sadly lacking the education and the right knowledge to be able to promote themselves and their culture and to position themselves properly in the music business.


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